Words by Paul Kerr :: Images by Michael Saba
17th Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam :: 12.17.05 :: Asheville Civic Center :: Asheville, NC
If music truly matters, then this is what it's all about. For the 17th consecutive year, Warren Haynes put together an all-star cast of friends to help celebrate the holiday spirit with a gigantic jam dedicated to Habitat for Humanity. If music really does have a healing spirit, if the notes actually do have the ability to create community, if the sounds somehow propel us to thinking beyond ourselves, then no embodiment could be more pure of heart than the Christmas Jam.
17th Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam
12.17.05 :: Asheville, NC
Last year's Jam raised almost $100,000 for charity, and the all-time mark is quickly approaching half a million dollars. That's an awful lot of plywood to help keep families warm in the western Carolina mountains and beyond. None of the artists get paid beyond basic expenses, creating a deep reservoir of commitment to the notion of celebration for a cause greater than ourselves. There really does seem to be a different feeling in the air at the Christmas Jam. Something happens to the collective spirit when you know your deeds are rippling through the community with positive effects. And in years past, when they've occasionally brought onstage, the recipients of the homes built by Habitat for Humanity, well, it isn't too often you see people holding back tears at a rock show.
The Christmas Jam sold out earlier than usual this year, with all 7,200 tickets gone by the beginning of December. I think most of us can agree that 2005 was a pretty strange year. (Perhaps this year the show should have been called the Warren Haynes Non-Denominational Non-Offensive Holiday Jam.) So what better way to bid it a fond (or not so fond) adieu than to gather in a dark room filled with weirdoes to dance and sing and laugh together?
Patterson Hood :: Christmas Jam :: 12.17 :: Asheville, NC
The show opened at 7 p.m., which is practically the crack of dawn to a rock star. "How's it going? It sure is good to see you," said Haynes as he welcomed the crowd to the start of a very long evening. He opened up the show with the endlessly poignant "Soulshine" before being joined by Edwin McCain on additional acoustic guitar for a sublime rendition of Seal's "Crazy." Haynes's delicately propulsive soloing perfectly underscored McCain's choppy rhythms as they turned in a gorgeous performance on this surprising cover. Kevn Kinney from Drivin' N' Cryin' rounded out the acoustic trio for a rollicking "Coming Back Around" and an emotionally charged cover of Bob Dylan’s timeless "I Shall be Released."
Next up was a supergroup billed as "Patterson Hood & Friends," which in reality was 3/5 of Drive-By Truckers with Dave Schools from Widespread Panic on bass. Joined by co-Truckers Jason Isbell on guitar and Brad "the EZB" Morgan on drums, they tore through solid Southern rockers "Sink Hole" and "The Day John Henry Died" before being joined by Marty Stuart on mandolin for "Heathens." Ex-Black Crowes guitarist Audley Freed emerged with a blistering solo on "Decoration Day" that led into a mountainous closing jam. Haynes then joined the fun for the set-closing heavy thump of "Lookout Mountain," adding screeching howls of sliding guitar into the Grand Canyon of deep grooves.
Hood & Schools :: Christmas Jam :: 12.17 :: Asheville, NC
The Mayor of Asheville came out to welcome everyone to this year's Jam and to thank the crowd for their contribution towards providing housing for less fortunate people. Haynes introduced the next set by saying how honored he was to welcome "the Godfather of bluegrass" Dr. Ralph Stanley. Joined by his grandson Nathan Stanley on mandolin and James Shelton on guitar, they opened with "Girl From the Greenbriar Shore" before Stanley's haunting a cappella take on "O Death." At a venue so used to guitar anthems and funky shakedowns, the eerie sound of one voice resonating through the hall brought a shared moment of silence throughout the crowd as they absorbed every nuance of his seasoned voice. The set rolled on with "Little Birdie" and closed with the soft and subtle sounds of "Lift Him Up, That's All."
Dr. Ralph Stanley & Nathan Stanley :: Christmas Jam
12.17.05 :: Asheville, NC
One of the treats of the Christmas Jam is that the sequence of the performers isn't announced in advance. When you're at the show, you never know what to expect next. A blast of applause filled with high anticipation welcomed John Scofield & Friends to the stage. Supporting the jazz guitarist extraordinaire on this occasion was his occasional partner John Medeski from Medeski, Martin & Wood on keyboards, Andy Hess from Gov't Mule on bass, and Stanton Moore from Galactic on drums. Not bad, Mr. Scofield, not bad. They burst forth with a ferocious set of funky jazz, weaving a myriad of influences into the complex fabric of the music. The set was heavy on incendiary instrumentals like "Hottentot," "Boozer," "Gonzo," and "Cryin' Time," and then cranked up to supercharged with the addition of Haynes, saxman Ron Holloway, and legendary keyboardist Ivan Neville. Together they ran through Ray Charles's "The Night Time is the Right Time" and the Grateful Dead's eternally danceable "Turn on Your Love Light."
Hess, Louis, Medeski :: Christmas Jam
12.17.05 :: Asheville, NC
It was time for a deep breath after that extravaganza, so it was with perfect timing that Ray LaMontagne came out to play. His melodic singer/songwriter solo acoustic set was like a warm blanket wrapped around the crowd. His set included "Forever My Friend," "Hold You in My Arms," "Trouble," and "Jolene," and perfectly prepared the audience's aural appetite for the rockabilly country swagger of Marty Stuart.
Exploding through the speakers with a solo mandolin tour de force called "Streamline Lover," Stuart immediately perked up the ears of everyone in the room. "Dark Bird" was written for Johnny Cash, Stuart's old friend and neighbor, and led into a rendition of a song by one of Cash's friends, Bob Dylan's "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere." Stuart was joined for the sing-along classic by Haynes and Schools, along with Danny Louis on keyboards and Matt Abts on drums, both from Gov't Mule. The expanded group revved up to a mighty sound for the huge musical punctuation mark of "Are You Sure Hank Done it This Way," before wrapping up the set with a bouncy, jovial take on The Byrds' "Mr. Spaceman."
Matt Abts :: Christmas Jam :: 12.17.05 :: Asheville, NC
Hot Tuna is a unique two-headed monster. Equally adept at both acoustic and electric settings, they present a range of options unavailable to mere mortals. The band consists of Jorma Kaukonen on guitar and Jack Casady on bass, both from the original Jefferson Airplane, along with Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin and Erik Diaz on drums. Their set was a monstrous unleashing of frantic energy, catapulting over the crowd and swirling around the room. A beautiful version of the poetic "Embryonic Journey" was a tranquil respite from the maelstrom, which otherwise unloaded songs including "Can't Get Satisfied," "Bowlegged Women," and "Come Back Baby." The set ended with Haynes helping them out on "Rock Me Baby," to a predictably awe-inspiring conclusion.
Casady, Diaz & Kaukonen :: Christmas Jam
12.17.05 :: Asheville, NC
The following act was easily the most anticipated of the entire evening. Not since Phish's breakup 16 months ago have any of the members been billed in advance to play together. Fans have been thrilled to see them sit in with each other on any number of occasions, but never before could anyone plan on seeing it. So it was with much surprise and celebration that the names Trey Anastasio & Mike Gordon were seen on the roster. Then, just a couple of weeks before the Jam, another name was added to the bill. Joining Anastasio & Gordon would be Bill Kreutzmann, drummer from none other than the Grateful Dead themselves. For some people, this is a mere musical curiosity. For others, it is a singular moment in cultural history that cannot be missed under any circumstances. I leave it to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself the importance of such things. Suffice it to say that many in the audience had clearly chosen the latter, and so it was with great joy and relief that the audience welcomed to the stage Anastasio, Gordon & Kreutzmann, now known together as Serial Pod.
Trey Anastasio :: Christmas Jam :: 12.17 :: Asheville, NC
After getting their sea legs with a few minutes of exploratory jamming, they landed in a bed made many years ago by Kreutzmann and his compatriots. No one knew what to expect from this combination of musicians, but they would get their first taste with "Cumberland Blues." Kreutzmann's playing was particularly dynamic, with subtle fills and nuances peppered throughout. Anastasio was soaring and crunching in his typical "This is the most fun I've ever had in my whole life" sort of way, and Gordon was keeping the whole thing grounded with his own typically bizarre fanciful fingerwork. The familiar interplay of guitar and bass bouncing off each other brought back many memories from the pre-Coventry days, but this was something new, and it actually sounded quite ripe and juicy, especially when they launched straight into "Chalkdust Torture." Ah, now to find out what Kreutzmann does in unfamiliar territory. Well the answer was, he freaks out and triples his energy level. Kreutzmann went positively nuts on this tune, pounding the cymbals and accenting the grooves at every burst of emotion. The jam coalesced in typical Phish fashion from frenzied psychosis to spacey melodicism, and morphed slowly into an unexpected, yet expertly delivered, cover of Nirvana's "On a Plain."
Bill Kreutzmann :: Christmas Jam :: 12.17 :: Asheville, NC
The set rolled on with the mighty wallop of a new song called "Wave the Ocean," which started as an instrumental behemoth, languishing deep in the bottomless musical sea, before coming up for air as a beautifully sung melodic bluegrass tune with climactic sunbursts of energy. They continued with a tasty take on Van Morrison's "Sweet Thing," which led into an extended bout of soloing. Ivan Neville then joined the band, becoming Serial Pod's first ever official guest, and helped them in a stirring, shapeshifting 19-minute version of Phish's "Waves." Neville stuck around while they embraced the catchy sing-along changes of Jimi Hendrix's "Angel" before launching into the perfect choice to close out the set, the Grateful Dead's "Loose Lucy."
Haynes & Holloway :: Christmas Jam :: 12.17.05
Christmas Jam is not known for its brevity. It was now 2 a.m., the crowd had been inside the arena for seven hours, and it wasn't over yet. (Someone wake up that guy on the floor over there, he's missing the show.) It was time for the host of the evening to bring out his own band, and it was with genuine gratitude for the entire evening that the crowd roared in applause to welcome Gov't Mule to the stage. Their set was a raging festival of electric blues and rock-solid jams. They opened with the groovy strut of "Perfect Shelter" before applying the dramatic smash of "Bad Little Doggie." A fiery run through Led Zeppelin's "Living Loving Maid" led to a guest appearance from John Medeski on a funky, amped-up instrumental Southern-rock version of Bob Marley's "Lively Up Yourself." Holloway and Neville lent their talents to a monumental "32-20 Blues," while Freed came back out to jam on Neil Young's "Don't Let it Bring You Down."
Haynes & Scofield :: Christmas Jam :: 12.17.05
The covers continued with takes on the Beatles' "She Said, She Said" and "Tomorrow Never Knows" before guitarist Mike Barnes joined them for Temple of the Dog's "Hunger Strike" with a sprinkling of Traffic's "Dear Mr. Fantasy" thrown in for good measure. They finished the set with the chunky funk of "Thorazine Shuffle" before coming out for the encore with Anastasio, Kreutzmann, Schools, and Stuart in tow. The 17th Annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam wrapped up with one of the most classic jam-along songs in the book, "I Know You Rider." Everyone got a turn to shine, and they left the crowd beaming and glowing as they stumbled into the 3:30 a.m. Asheville cold. Once again, Haynes had brought together an extended family for the holidays, composed of both musicians and audience members, gathering together in celebration, and all for a worthy cause. Mr. Haynes, I do believe Santa Claus himself would be proud.
"Thank you for a real good time."
JamBase | Asheville
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